Ansari heads to a new democratic Maldives Monday

November 9th, 2008 - 6:44 pm ICT by IANS  

!– Imagr –New Delhi/Male, Nov 9 (IANS) India is poised to begin a new chapter in its multi-faceted ties with a democratic Maldives as Vice-President Hamid Ansari goes Monday on a two-day visit to the Indian Ocean nation to attend the swearing-in ceremony of President-elect Mohamed “Anni” Nasheed. Ansari’s visit will mark New Delhi’s first high-level contact with the new democratic leadership in the Maldives, a strategically important country, 800 km away from India’s southern tip and where China is trying to make inroads.

Ansari will attend the swearing-in of Nasheed, a former political prisoner, Tuesday that signals a new era in the history of the Maldives, a tourist paradise known for its pristine coral beeches and luxury holiday resorts.

The vice-president will hold talks with Nasheed on a wide range of bilateral and regional issues, including the intensification of economic ties, developmental assistance, climate change, and issues relating to SAARC, official sources said Sunday. Maldives will host the SAARC summit next year.

Ansari will meet his counterpart Mohamed Waheed Hasan, who will also be sworn in Tuesday.

The vice-president will also call on President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Asia’s longest-serving ruler whose regime ended Oct 28 after he lost the historic multi-party polls to pro-democracy activist Nasheed whom he had imprisoned many a time in the last decade.

In an assertion of its strategic interests in the Maldives, the then Rajiv Gandhi government sent troops to beat off Sri Lankan mercenaries who tried to oust Gayoom in a failed coup in 1988.

India hailed the beginning of “a new era of constitutional reform, democracy and development,” in the Indian ocean archipelago after Nasheed won the presidential elections, ending three decades of one-man rule by Gayoom.

The visit by Ansari, a former diplomat who served as India’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Iran, barely a fortnight after the 47-year-old Nasheed was elected president, will build upon enormous goodwill across the spectrum in the Maldives for India.

The vice-president will also meet leaders of the Indian community in the Maldives. Indians are the largest expatriate community in the Maldives with a population of 19,430 that forms a sturdy human bridge between the two countries.

A large number of Maldives diplomats have been trained in India. And Maldivians have not forgotten India was among the first few countries to help when the 2004 tsunami struck the Indian Ocean nation. India also provides hardware for its military and training to the Maldives’ defence personnel.

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